Sunday, February 26, 2012

Purveyors of Preciousness

I almost forgot, I mentioned earlier that the comments on my "Origins" post sparked a couple of follow-on thoughts, and I posted one of them here. Then I read a post yesterday about how supportive the writing community is, and it reminded me of the other thought.

My writing origins were distinctly late and shaky, self-conscious and fragile. I don't think I would have carried on this long, certainly not to the point of having a fully-written novel under my belt (OK, publication is still in the mists of fantasy land, but that's another story) without the support and encouragement of other writers.

There's the personal touch of others in my critique groups, many in much the same position, struggling to polish up their creations to be aired in public. Then there are others in the blogging world, the high flyers, with significant publications to their name, who still take the time to come down to ground level and encourage the up-and-comers.

Even industry professionals often blog with advice and support for writers at all levels. There may not be the same personal interaction - these folks have followers in the thousands, after all - but the openness and welcome is the same.

Now, the strange thing is that, in contrast with my unlikely entry into writing, I was practically born with a paintbrush in my hand. Some of my earliest memories are of colouring and drawing. I remember drawing Daleks at the age of three when Dr. Who first aired on British TV.

In later years I read voraciously. It wasn't the writing I tried to emulate, however, it was the cover art.

Throughout my school years, nobody I knew drew or painted like I did. I won the art prize each year, even though I didn't take art as a subject. In retrospect, this probably pissed off the people who were studying it, and I think now it was rather unfair. Some of them were good, certainly more technically accomplished than me, they just weren't doing the kinds of work I was doing.

So imagine my delight and anticipation when I went to university, which drew together talented people from all over the country. There would be other artists there. Good artists. People I could talk to about arty things.

Does this scenario sound familiar to all you budding writers? Maybe those joining a critique group or going to a writing conference for the first time?

The trouble is, I wasn't an artist. I was a mathematician.

The fact that I drew and painted was immaterial. The fact that my friends liked what I was doing probably made it worse. Other artists, "real" artists, were unanimously snide and dismissive. I think they took the view that if a non-artist liked a painting, then clearly it wasn't art, daahhhling.

No. Art had to be obscure, deeply meaningful - but only to a self-selecting elite - and could only, ever, evuh, be done by a member of that same self-selecting elite.

So my dreams of being taken seriously by the artistic community withered. I still draw, I still paint, occasionally, but I long ago stopped trying to be taken seriously by those purveyors of preciousness. Life's too short.

Contrast this with the attitude in the writing world, where a highly respected industry professional, the formidable Janet Reid, renowned for her non-nonsense opinions, can say the following:

Make no mistake about this: if you have written and finished a novel you ARE a writer. Don't let anyone, particularly some snotty so-called publishing professional, demean this achievement. You've written a novel = you're a writer.

That is why I'm still writing.

So, what's been your experience of the writing community? And do you have other communities with which to compare and contrast?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jenny Pearson at Pearson Report, one of the co-hosts of this year's A to Z Challenge, has posed a little tag game for bloggers. It is very simple: copy and paste her questions into a post on your blog, and answer them.


Are you signed up for the A to Z Challenge? 
(A really good answer is YES!)

YES! OK, got that one right, now for the others...
What is your sign-up number? 
(Almost as good as asking, “What’s your Sign?”)

Currently #170, but it does change from time to time as the organisers weed out bad links in the list. I think I started off at 174.
Are you ready? If yes...explain yourself. 
(Is it because you’re retired, or do you blog at work...just curious)

OK, define "ready". 
Do I have all my posts written and scheduled? NO! 
Do I have any posts written? A couple.
Do I have subjects for posts on each day? I think so.
If you’re not ready...what’s your excuse? 
(Or...are you going to wing it and hope for the best)

There's still plenty of time.

And now, a question for any followers of The Bald Patch who feel like answering: are you thinking about the A to Z Challenge this year? And feel free to visit Jenny's blog and post your own answer to her questions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

'Nuther quick update

Manuscript revisions reached 90% done. Progress slowed down recently because of a tougher section, and I took a lot of time out last week to visit other participants in the "Origins" blogfest, which was a huge load of reading and some fascinating stories.

Despite all that, my target to finish this month is still within reach.

Also I see the "Followers" list broke into three digits last week, so I bid a heartfelt welcome to new visitors to The Bald Patch. I hope some of you find enough of interest to hang around a while.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Origins addendum

Some of the comments on my "Origins" post on Monday sparked a couple of thoughts which were worth follow-up posts.

In my "Origins" story, it sounded like I just started writing out of the blue. That's certainly how it felt at the time, and, as far as recreational creative writing goes, that is indeed true.

But, in retrospect, it wasn't quite as surprising as I may have portrayed it.

Looking back, I've actually been writing for many years, I just didn't realize it at the time.

Until my family and I left the UK, I was a software developer. Far broader than just programming, my work was "soup to nuts", and the dry world of professional IT offered many surprising opportunities for good writing - if only you knew where to look for them.

First off, there's the obvious world of coding comments. Long ago, I learned to respect the human mind's tendency to forget what was running through it at the time it wrote something. So, I learned the value of very clear explanations of complex thought processes, written as if explaining something to a complete stranger.

Then my company moved to data dictionary technology, and comprehensive documentation was embedded deep into every aspect of the development cycle. Faced with the task of describing, for example, the "Customer number" field, it begged a response slightly more substantial than "A number for the customer."

So, I practiced the art of asking, "What thing of value can I say about this?" and I lost my paralysis when faced with a blank page, and nothing more than vague and elusive thoughts with which to fill it.

In other parts of the software development cycle, I waged a crusade to write things like business requirements, process descriptions, high level system designs, and user guides, in plain and accessible lay terms. If I could write something that didn't induce chronic narcolepsy, I reasoned, then maybe people would actually read the darned things.

More than this, some of these documents verged on storytelling. Did you ever realise how much a complex workflow resembles a story? There's the end user - the protagonist - embarking on an epic journey to place a purchase order, playing a deadly game of "Hunt the Part Number" with the Guardian of the Database, seeking the blessing of the Expense Authorities, and then battling the perils of Misquoted Prices, Partial Deliveries, and Changing Requirements.

I developed stamina, too. Some of these documents ran to hundreds of pages.

At the other end of the scale, my professional work sometimes demanded leanness bordering on the anorexic. Ever tried to present a complex business case, with an explanation (to someone who is meeting this proposal for the first time), options with pros and cons, and a recommendation - all in less than two pages?

When you add this all up, throwing in a bit of fiction wasn't so much of a leap after all.

Question: What opportunities for writing present themselves in your life?

Monday, February 13, 2012


Blogfest time again! This one is hosted by DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl, Alex J Cavanaugh and Matthew MacNish.

On February 13th, all participants will answer a most vital question: When and how did you first become a writer? How did it all begin? What are your writing origins?

Writing was something that kinda sneaked up on me from a distinctly unpromising background.

At school, I was OK at English but struggled with stringing together coherent thoughts on paper. It was the same with other subjects, and the one common theme was writing. I disliked it. It wasn't so much the writing of words, it was coming up with what to say in the first place. My mind always went blank.

The one subject I excelled at was mathematics, which involved no writing. Bliss!

Guess what I studied at university? Feeling insufferably smug whenever one of my friends had to pull an all-nighter. Essay crisis? Pah! Mathematicians don't write essays.

And so I continued through life, thankful never to have to write another essay or piece of creative prose ever again!

Then, in September 2004, I started getting an idea for a story. Some images formed in my mind so vivid that I felt compelled to try getting them down on the page.

To this day, I have no idea why.

So I made my first faltering and painfully self-conscious attempts to write a scene or two of a novel. It was difficult. Each time I turned to my computer screen it felt like someone was watching over my shoulder, pointing and laughing at my ridiculous attempts. But it got easier.

And then I started wondering if I was doing anything worthwhile, or if it was nothing more than self-indulgent time-wasting. I found an online critique group, submitted my first chapters, and nervously checked email for responses.

And I made a wonderful discovery.

People didn't laugh. They didn't sneer. Sure, what I had done was nowhere near publishable - but it wasn't a lost cause.

Since then, I've worked to improve. The more I learn, the more there is to learn. I still struggle with ideas, with how to torture my characters (I'm way too nice to them), how to get them into - and out of - awkward situations, but I am now proud to count writing as a serious pursuit.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Snail House

Back in daydreamland, I did more detailed drawings of the "Snail House" that I posted about last month.

Follow me on a guided tour...

The first floor is dominated by bedrooms, including a couple of guest rooms forming a small suite.

Bathrooms are clustered around the central core. I envisage solar light tubes leading down from the roof to bring some natural light into those windowless spaces.

Ali asked me why I didn't give the kids' rooms separate en-suites. I could have, but with such a deep space to play with it would have made access a problem, and I like the idea of the hallway linking all the family rooms together. All the bedrooms have sliders opening out to a paved area running around that side of the house.

The big open space is a spacious garage with lots of room for bikes, storage, and a large work area for all those tree forts and pirate ships I need to build. This means we might have a fighting chance of getting actual cars in the garage!

The main entrance leads into a circular hall with stairs up either side to a balcony.

The second floor is extremely simple, and shows the spiral nature of the plan with a sweep of rooms running around the house.

I've added another staircase joining the playroom below with the family room above. I think this makes these informal family living spaces more self-contained and slightly separated from the entertainment areas.

This stairwell continues up to the eyrie at the top - strictly adults only :)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lightning updates

My legs survived last Friday's cycle, and managed to do it all again on Tuesday. Much less painful this time. I said it would get easier.

Last weekend, my current round of revisions broke through 75% complete. Well on target to finish by the end of the month. Yay!

Admittedly, this section is proving a lot easier than some, so I'm on a roll right now. I think there's another tougher bit to come where the critiques were harsher. Uh-oh...word count crept up by 100 in the last week. That's not the way it's supposed to be going at this stage!

I've been drawing out a more detailed plan of the "snail house" that I sketched a couple of weeks ago, and which I'll share another time.

Look out for the Origins blogfest on Monday, hosted by DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl, Alex J Cavanaugh and Matthew MacNish. Participants will share when and how they first became writers. Click on one of the links for more details.

Friday, February 3, 2012


My first cycle to work for the year. And it hurt!

It's been over four months since my last commute, and the only regular exercise I've had in that time is copious fork-lifts and jaw-crunches.

Looking back, I see it was also exactly this Friday last year when I resumed cycling for the year. By the look of my post then, it was a soggy experience. Today was beautiful, dry, crisp and clean. The thing that got to me today was the cold. I'm not fit enough yet to sustain much effort so my legs never properly warmed up. Which meant the cold got to them and sapped my energy even further. I was counting down the kilometers on the way home, as each one grew harder than the last.

But I made it, and it will get easier.

And I was rewarded with the sight of three deer grazing someone's lawn this evening.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge

Last year, I remember how the blogging world went very strange in April. Everyone, it seemed, was taking part in the A to Z Challenge. I didn't have time to spare back then, because I was busy finishing this, but this year forewarned is forearmed.

So, I've signed up.

What have I let myself in for?

The idea of the challenge is for bloggers to post daily throughout April (with Sundays off) with posts related to each letter of the alphabet.

To make things more interesting, I decided also to stick to a theme throughout the month.

Because I'm still up to my eyeballs in revisions, my mind is swimming in Ghosts of Innocence-related thoughts, so I'll be posting snippets about Shayla's world, continuing the series I've already started.

There. I've said it! Now I just have to make it happen!
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